Opinion: The most successful influencers are their own media channels
This article was originally published on Adweek.
With the advent of social media has come the democratization of media. Any individual can post a filtered image or looped video for free, which means that the cost of content creation has effectively been reduced to zero. The means of content consumption have also been placed in our pockets, so anyone has the ability to build a global audience.
Enter: the influencer.
Social influencers have taken on the roles of both producer and publisher to deliver their own custom content to their own expanding audiences. Some brands have chosen to harness that to connect with consumers. We’ve seen the profound impact that influencers have had on social advertising and marketing, but that impact extends beyond sponsorships and endorsements.
Influencers have drastically changed the shape of our media model as a whole, and they will determine how each media player involved will survive into the future.
The power of the influencer is perhaps most apparent when observing how influencer capabilities in the media model are expanding and how that shift is forcing innovative media properties and agencies to respond. This is what you might call an “early ripple” of disruption.
Let’s take a closer look:
Influencers as the agency
The most successful influencers are their own media channels. Some are attracting the same audiences and levels of engagement as primetime television shows. And when you see the crowds that flock around big names such as Logan Paul, it’s easy to appreciate the celebrity they’ve built.
But the savviest influencers are moving beyond just getting tapped for brand partnerships—they’re actually building the partnerships themselves. The influencers that will stand the test of time are establishing their own agencies and creative studios. Influencers such as Zach Glassman and Natasha Martin are paving the way for influencers to succeed as media entities and agencies.
Through his own travel Instagramming, Glassman (@zachspassport) built a community of fellow travellers, Passion Passport. With this community, he’s now creating campaigns with clients such as Amtrak, to which his community can contribute.
Similarly, Martin (@violettinder) created Violet Tinder Studios as an extension of her own content creation. Brands are now approaching her studio for full-featured content creation.
In both cases, these influencers have gone from just being pitched to participate in campaigns to pitching their own campaigns.
Agencies as the media channel
In the traditional model, advertising agencies worked by knowing where to place ads to reach specific audiences. That job becomes more difficult as those audiences expand and become increasingly niche and as the properties that they view continue to grow.
In response, we’re seeing agencies joining this expansion of media offerings by building their own media channels.
Jason Stein of Laundry Service referenced as much with the launch of cycle.media: “We’re building media brands because agencies (branded content and distribution, to be specific) are the best way to monetize and happen to have a pretty good background in doing those things.”
For other agencies to survive, they need to follow suit.
Influencers are the future for media companies
The media companies are in the toughest position of all of the players. Influencers are proving to be tough competitors when it comes to attracting finite audience attention, and agencies are encroaching on their space.
However, even though this is a tough position for the media companies to be in, it also presents a huge opportunity for the smart media companies to grow.
We’ve seen media companies building and acquiring their own agencies to combat agency growth, a la Vice with the creation of its Virtue Worldwide agency. But for media companies to be successful in the future, they’ll need to do more. They’ll need to recreate the magic captured by influencers.
We’ve already seen a few early innovators in the space make moves in this direction. Viacom brought on Shaun McBride (Shonduras) as an “influencer consultant” for content production and to advise on how to attract a millennial audience.
And with the signing of Casey Neistat, CNN announced plans to “reinvent daily news,” with video recaps from the vlogger.
Both of these signings represent a big change for the media industry. Similar to web properties acquiring blogs for their audiences and to expand their coverage, these media companies are acquiring content creation experts with existing audiences. They’re bringing the magic of these influencers in-house. And this is just the beginning.
Where Shonduras may be able to help Viacom’s content production and Neistat may be able to build a popular news property for CNN, they aren’t solving the whole problem for these media companies. Media companies have the infrastructure in place to build content at scale for their audiences, but they’re steadily losing these audiences to the influencers who have the proven ability to build and engage the audiences.
For media companies to be successful, they need to be influencers. Within the next year, we will see more media companies enlisting influencers to build out specific channels for them, similar to the one-off brand campaigns in which we currently see influencers participating. The savviest media companies will be bringing on influencers to consult throughout the entire media creation process, so they’re better equipped to create engaging content and build an audience over time.
Influencers have changed the media model as we know it, and their impact will only continue to grow. As a result, the lines between the key players in media become blurrier every day. The players that endure will be the ones that recognize this change and adapt by learning from their peers.
Media companies might be in the toughest position right now, but if they can learn from the leading influencers and agencies in the space, they just might come out on top.